Olympia Stand & Indigenous Caucus
Olympia, WA November 22, 2016 — A train transporting fracking proppants to the Bakken Basin in North Dakota, the source of oil for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and explosive Bakken oil trains, was prevented from leaving the Port of Olympia for almost seven days before mass police repression dispersed a blockade in downtown Olympia, Washington. The action began on Friday, November 11, when activists received word a train shipping fracking proppants was set to depart. People immediately mobilized and confronted the train—forcing it to reverse direction back into the Port.
Protesters assembled an encampment, complete with tents, seating arrangements, food, music and a dishwashing station on the tracks at the edge of downtown Olympia. Other physical barricades to complement the encampment were constructed along the tracks to shut down all Port of Olympia commerce that travels via rail.
Protesters vowed to maintain the blockade until the Port of Olympia permanently ceases all shipments of fracking materials. The blockade was a concrete expression of solidarity with the anti-DAPL resistance led by Native Water Protectors at Standing Rock as well as local indigenous movements for sovereignty. This action follows in the footsteps of previous movements surrounding the Port of Olympia and the stolen land it occupies. Past actions include preventing shipments of military cargo during the Iraq War and affirming water, fishing and hunting rights of local tribes.
Local Native peoples who have recently organized as the Indigenous Caucus beside Olympia Stand said, “In this work we honor our elders and the teachings of our ancestors—to protect and preserve our sacred lands and waters on behalf of future generations. We’re peacefully confronting the Port of Olympia and the Union Pacific Railroad as conduit to one of the most destructive to earth and water practices – the oil and gas fracking fields of North Dakota, which threatens the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s only source of water.
It sickens us that the Port, in 2012, traveled to North Dakota in our names to pursue this dirty oil contract as noted in a May 2013 South Sound Green Page article. [See side bar] “As it turns out, it was upon the Port’s own initiative that Rainbow Ceramics, the proppant company, was solicited. Following the public comment session, Jim Knight, the Port’s Business Development Manager, told this reporter he ‘went to North Dakota to discover if there were opportunities for the Port. One was ceramic proppants.’
According to Knight, this cargo was best fit for the Port’s break bulk facilities, which handles cargo not in freight containers. Without considering the human and ecosystem costs, Port managers are conveyed authority to mindlessly pursue the almighty dollar. So, we resist!”
Said Indigenous caucus member Kyle Taylor Lucas who is a citizen of Tulalip Tribes and of Nlaka’pamux Nation, B.C., “We Indians have been fighting for our land and water against corporate and government oppression for 200-plus years. We don’t always agree among ourselves, but tribes and Indigenous peoples have taken an unprecedented collective stand to support the Standing Rock Sioux people with more than 300 nations joining the Standing Rock people in their defense of life-sustaining water.”
Protesters forged tactical and political decisions within daily general assemblies. The following public statement and Points of Unity were issued early in the encampment:
How we organize:
Olympia Stand is organized through a horizontal General Assembly (without rulers), connected committees, affinity groups, and an Indigenous Caucus. The camp had principles against racist, transphobic, homophobic, femmephobic, sexist, and ableist behavior and speech. There was also a principle of harm reduction and de-escalation whenever possible, including defense of self and others when necessary. These principles remain central to Olympia Stand.
Points of Unity (all agreed to overwhelmingly by general assemblies):
- We want the demands of the Indigenous caucus to be met. No more betrayal. Indigenous tribes should get more autonomy and indigenous peoples should be consulted about what is shipped through their land, and tribes should be able to dissent or consent to what is shipped through their land.
- No fossil fuel infrastructure in the port.
- We are for direct horizontal community control over the port and port resources. No more bureaucrats and hierarchs controlling the port, we demand that power over the port be put into the hands of the people directly.
- We are against militarization of the Port, and against any tax money going to the military, military representatives, or events for military representatives.
- We are against all fossil fuel extraction throughout the globe. This is not just about our backyard, but the biosphere and all of humanity, most especially those disproportionately affected by anti-ecological practices and the unborn.
- We want a release of the secret Port documents. We want transparency about what is happening in regards to the Port.
At 4:00 a.m., Friday, November 18, a joint raid was collectively staged by Union Pacific security agents, Olympia Police Department, Thurston County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol. Though riot police outnumbered protestors by four or five times, the eviction was resisted for approximately 30 minutes. Law enforcement then advanced, tearing down tents and barricades and arresting 12 protesters.
Another group of protesters emerged downtown to prevent the train carrying fracking proppants from departing on the now cleared tracks. An overwhelming police response, deploying “less-lethal” weapons such as pepper balls and flash grenades, ultimately dispersed demonstrators but not without injuring numerous protesters. One protester, Gabriel Stranahan, said about his experience following the raid: “The day after the raid, I started having nosebleeds and migraines. I took half of a rubber blast ball home as a souvenir—it went off really close to me and made my vision shake. Now I’m trying to find out what the long-term health effects of tear gas and flash grenades are, but I’m concerned for people because there isn’t a lot of research on it.”
The Indigenous Caucus noted that after it had, in good faith, scheduled a meeting with the Union Pacific Railroad attorney, the railroad and local officials repeated a long-standing practice of Indian betrayal. The railroad’s attorney had requested the negotiation meeting and agreed that if the meeting was scheduled by 5:00 p.m., on Thursday, they would not raid the camp. Considerable effort and rapid coordination went into making the arrangements to meet the imposed deadline. The meeting was arranged for the next day at 4:00 p.m., at a traditional tribal meeting place. Letters of invitation had been quickly drafted and sent to two of the potentially affected Medicine Creek tribes, and the Indigenous Caucus was scheduled to participate.
Yet, said Lucas, “Twelve hours before the meeting, like so many times in history, the Indians were betrayed! In paramilitary fashion, the railroad police accompanied by local, county, and state police sneaked around in cover of night to raid the peaceful camp. This, as we in the Indigenous Caucus were to meet, in good faith, with railroad officials twelve hours later. They may think this is the end, but this is just the beginning.”
Although the blockade has been dismantled and fracking proppants remain in the Port, protesters have vowed to continue the fight. If activists in other cities stage similar blockades, the economic viability of other ports or rail companies’ complicity in fracking could be compromised.
Port of Olympia sought fracking sands shipments
Editorial note: Below is a portion of an article written by Hildi Flores in the Green Pages May 2013 issue titled, “Port Cargo Concerns Community”.
The Port of Olympia is currently under scrutiny for its questionable economic viability and controversial cargo, the most recent being ceramic proppants used in the oil fields of North Dakota for hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The Port’s shipment of this cargo is embedded in more systemic issues that have been the concern of some community members for decades.
At a public meeting on April 22, Port Commissioners responded to public comments by stating it is outside the scope of their role to “arbitrarily” halt the movement of proppants. Commissioner Jeff Davis said almost every cargo has controversy, and as commissioner he has to consider “what is the immediate threat to the citizens of Thurston County?”
As it turns out, it was upon the Port’s own initiative that Rainbow Ceramics, the proppant company, was solicited. Following the public comment session, Jim Knight, the Port’s Business Development Manager, told this reporter he “went to North Dakota to discover if there were opportunities for the Port. One was ceramic proppants.” According to Knight, this cargo was best fit for the Port’s break- bulk facilities, which handles cargo not in freight containers…
“If they went to North Dakota then they are complicit in what is going on there,” said Mike Coday, a local activist. “We can’t get them to think in a long-term timeframe because they are focused on the fiscal year.”